I guess loads of us will have made some New Year Resolutions in the last few days. And what many of us will lack is the perseverance to carry through on the Resolutions we’ve made.
Just yesterday I read a great blog post on Entitlement, specifically addressing this attitude in Gen Y. It’s well worth a read. I suspect that many of us have, to one degree or another, an entitlement attitude. It’s probably not just limited to Gen Y! And more than anything we probably apply this entitlement attitude in our desire for spiritual transformation. If we’re followers of Jesus we often have an intrinsic tension. We receive the gift of grace and know that we have the Holy Spirit living in us and perhaps fear that any effort we make will become striving and in opposition to that grace we’ve been given. I know this because I have felt and lived this tension myself. As Christians we absolutely need to be living in grace and empowered by His Spirit.
Better than anyone else I know, Dallas Willard explains how effort and grace need not be a tension:
The path of spiritual growth in the riches of Christ is not a passive one. Grace is not opposed to effort. It is opposed to earning. Effort is action. Earning is attitude. You have never seen people more active than those who have been set on fire by the grace of God. Paul, who perhaps understood grace better than any other mere human being, looked back at what had happened to him and said: “By the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me did not prove vain; but I laboured even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me.” (I Cor. 15:10)
Entitlement is no friend of perseverance. Whereas entitlement believes “I deserve, I should have this, I should be able to do this”, perseverance says “I will keep going at this until I see the results I want to see.” Perseverance is often the missing factor in our New Year’s resolutions. It’s the reason why by February 1st we’ve stopped going to the gym or by January 20th we’ve stepped back into our old eating habits. Perseverance is often the missing ingredient. There’s some kind of irony in someone like myself writing this. You may, or may not, be accustomed with Myers Briggs. My personality type, the INFP, is one of the least likely to persevere – I certainly identify with that! But maybe seeing this weakness in myself has caused me to think more about how to persevere to see the results I’d like to see. I think there are at least 3 elements we need to take hold of in order to persevere in something: vision, plan, and accountability.
Perseverance will never happen merely for the sake of perseverance. We need a reason to persevere in something. Essentially we need vision. It becomes virtually impossible to persevere in something if we’re not sure why we’re doing it. Vision keeps us going when we’d rather be sat with our feet up watching the TV. Vision keeps us moving when we’d rather stay in bed all morning. Vision keeps us motivated when we’d rather be surfing the internet than writing that first page of a new book. I used to think that vision needed to be something spectacular, something all-singing, all-dancing and preferably accompanied with fireworks. I’m not sure that’s the case. Vision does need to be something that’s out of reach, a goal to aim for, and if we’re followers of Jesus it should be something we know we can’t accomplish in our strength. My vision in September last year was to get physically fit, and to be able to run 5k with ease.
Perseverance cannot happen without a plan. If we don’t have a plan in place we won’t know how to reach our vision. Depending on your personality this may be a vague outline or a step-by step detailed plan of every step you need to take. Going back to my running example – I followed a 9 week plan which trained me to run for 5k. For the first week all I did was run for 60 seconds at a time, and then walked for 2 minutes, and then repeated. But each week I did a little bit more so that I could gradually see my fitness increase. Another example of a simple but effective plan is one that I’m following right now – in fact this blog post is a by-product of it. My vision is to become a better writer, and part of my plan to help grow towards this is to write for 20 minutes every day. In this time I’m not using delete or backspace, I’m not quickly checking emails, or glancing at twitter. I’m not analysing what I’m writing. I’m just writing down whatever comes out of my head. And as I commit to writing 20 minutes (minimum) each day I’m strengthening my writing muscles. When we can see tangible results and measure progress we know that we’re heading towards our vision.
This is the one that many of us miss out, but is especially important. Rich (my husband) is particularly effective at holding me accountable for the things that we’ve discussed and made plans for. Accountability means that we’ve processed, shared and discussed our hearts, our plans, our hopes and dreams with someone else and they’re going to hold us to that plan. Preferably like a dog with a bone. In the early days of running there were times when I’d rather eat sawdust than go out for a run. But Rich would remind me of the vision and push me out of the door. On other occasions he’s written reminders on his phone to ask me about something we’ve agreed I need to be accountable in. One of my accountability partners used to text or ask me everyday about a certain issue I’d ask to be made accountable for. Accountability acknowledges that we can’t do this stuff alone. Accountability is having someone who will ask us if we’ve done what we said we’d do.